You sure it isn't 1961 in Chicago? Richard Daley's the mayor, right? The Cubs are winning 40 percent of their games. It is mid-April and the Blackhawks just might be the best team in the NHL playoffs.
The Hawks may not have Bobby Hull on the wing now, as they did in '61, but they do have a sprite named Patrick Kane who buried the Predators with a whippin' third-period shot Sunday night and who is scoring at a truly Hullian pace: 11 goals in 18 playoff games going back to last year.
And the Hawks may not have Glenn Hall between the pipes these days, but they do have Antti Niemi, who, well, is no Hall. Coming into the playoffs, the Chicago faithful was duly split in their feelings about the uneven Finnish keeper: you had the Antti Niemi crowd, and then you had the anti-Niemi crowd.
Still, Hall had a record of 1-1 two games into the 1961 playoffs, which is just the same record that Niemi has two games into Chicago's series with Nashville. Some of the 23 saves Niemi made in shutting out the Predators 2-0 -- a sliding pad stop on Dustin Boyd comes to mind -- made people forget that Chicago was supposed to have goaltending issues this playoffs.
The Predators are in the series, thanks to their ability to slow down the speedy Blackhawks -- "Frustrating," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said, "we have to keep working" -- and thanks as well to their own Finnish goalie and frequent contortionist PekkaRinne.
But don't expect Nashville to be able to keep the Blackhawks offense in check for long. The Predators' strategy of clogging up the ice is kind of like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. First of all, that means you have only one hand left for other things (like creating offense). Second of all, it is only a matter of time before you have to take your finger out of the crack to scratch your nose, and we know what happens then ...
The Blackhawks flooded the offensive zone for long stretches. Toews hit a crossbar. Dave Bolland had a goal taken away because of a quick whistle. Rinne sprawled magnificently to stop a Marian Hossa shot. Chicago's first goal came after a tick-tack-tick of passing on the power play that spun Rinne out of control, and led to Bolland's sweet backhand. Things could have been a lot worse for Nashville.
April of 1961, as you likely know, was the last time the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, a stretch of Cuplessness that is currently unmatched. There were some good years along the way and five trips to the finals. (Remember Mike Keenan's crew in 1992?) But, by and large, the team went from bad to Wirtz since the days of Hull and Hall.
Until now. This season's incarnation of the Hawks may not have StanMikita and PierrePilote, but they do have DuncanKeith and BrentSeabrook. And Hossa. And Brian Campbell on the mend. The hoopla about this team is real and rightful. Chicago finished with +62 goal differential this year. They've got the Sharks' talent, minus the self-destructive streak. They may even have a passable goalie. The point is that even with two home games coming up, underdog Nashville is not going anywhere in this series. Things look a lot like 1961 to the rinkrats in Chicago. Or, in words that the current Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley (you know, Richard J. Daley's boy) would appreciate: This just may be your father's Blackhawks.